Sunday, August 4, 2013

Book Review: Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (1994)

If you had asked me in 1995 (when I was 12) what my favorite book was, the answer most likely would have been Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. Though I think I only read it once, I remember just falling in love with it, and even now, it’s a book I identify as a favorite when kids ask me what books I loved as a kid. Surprisingly, despite my devotion to the book for nearly 20 years, when I sat down to think about it, I didn’t have very many memories of it at all. I remembered the main character’s name, Salamanca Tree Hiddle, and that she and her grandparents are on a road trip to find Salamanca’s mother, and that they call Sal their “chickabiddy,” but these are basically the only details my mind held onto. I’d forgotten that the road trip is only half the story, and that Salamanca actually narrates another story as she travels with her grandparents. The tale is that of her friend, Phoebe Winterbottom, Phoebe’s mother, and their involvement with an apparent lunatic.

Two things about this re-reading of a childhood favorite struck me right away:
  1. I didn’t enjoy the story itself as much.
  2. I appreciated the quality of the writing more.
There is a lot of metaphor at work in this book, which I understood much more easily as an experienced adult reader. While I remember liking the sentiment of not judging someone until “you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins,” I never realized the many ways Sal does just that throughout the book. Sal not only takes the same literal trip her mother took from Kentucky to Idaho, she also learns to feel empathy for Mrs. Cadaver, her father, her grandparents, Phoebe Winterbottom, and even Phoebe’s mother. I don’t think I could have articulated all of that as a seventh grader, even if I internalized it, and it impressed me how well Creech weaves together the various parts of this story. I especially liked the parallels between Sal’s mom leaving home and Phoebe’s mom leaving home.

The story itself also seems more predictable to me now, possibly because I read and analyze so many children’s books. I didn’t remember the details of the plot, but as each event unfolded, I could see where things were going. I also think I am just a more careful reader now than I ever was as a kid, because my child self was shocked to learn that Sal’s mother is dead, but my adult self picked it up early on, the first time Sal says her mother is “resting peacefully.” I can’t tell whether the author intends for the reader to know this information early in the story or not - but it was interesting how obvious it was to me now and how clueless I was back then.

Re-reading this book was kind of a personal let-down because the story didn’t inspire the same strong sense of excitement I remember from back in the 90s, but without regard for my nostalgia, I think the story still holds up very well. As Newbery winners go, it’s one of the more readable stories, and I think kids are still drawn to this book - and Creech’s writing in general - even as we approach the 20-year mark since Walk Two Moons was first published.I doubt this is a book I’ll feel any need to revisit again, but I’m glad to have a new perspective on what was once my favorite book in the world.

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